While drinking our morning coffee at DVHQ, we noticed a tweet from the excellent @ArthursLetters, which shares a poignant story about a tragedy involving several members of the 4th KOYLI during a training exercise on 19 February 1915.
The story caught our eye because of our work with the Doncaster Museums and Library service on the ‘Doncaster and the Great War’ project. Doncaster was a regional centre for training and deployment for soldiers from many different units and battalions, as well being the base of 4th and 5th KOYLI activity.
As mentioned in the article, the 4th and 5th KOYLI were at their summer camp in Whitby when the Great War began. The immediate recall and mobilisation of so many troops filled the town to bursting, with all public buildings and many private homes acting as temporary billets and accommodation. Even the town’s marketplace was full of bivouacking soldiers – the effect on everyday life would have been tremendous.
During the course of our research, we also uncovered stories about Doncaster-based soldiers who perished during training exercises. During the war Doncaster’s airfield was used as a staging point for defense against the Zeppelin bombing raids, as well as a flight training facility. There were casualties during training, which is not not surprising in light of the conditions and time pressures soldiers were under to hurry to active combat duty. These are some of the less well-known stories of the Home Front, but somehow more powerfully affecting. It’s very difficult to think about the last moment of these soldiers, who were destined for the trenches, fields and skies of Europe; perhaps to meet the same outcome in death, however under very different circumstances. Their deaths during training are certainly no less heroic, and should not be overlooked as casualties of war.
We’ll be sharing more stories about Doncaster and its role as one of the major centres of Home Front activity during WWI as our research progresses. Until then, do enjoy this excellent article – and perhaps keep your eyes peeled in your own neighborhood for evidence of WWI archaeology. You may be surprised what you find!
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